Issues, Resources & Lesson Plans
GO INTO YOUR DANCE: HISTORY AND INFLUENCE OF TAP IN AMERICAThe chorus line audition in the 1933 Warner Bros. film.
LESSON #1: HEAR THE BEAT OF DANCING FEET
Students will learn how tap evolved as an American dance form, watch tap dancers to learn about their process and their art, and research a chosen facet of tap history through the Library of Congress.
In his review of the 2017 West End (UK) production of 42nd Street, The Guardian’s Dominic Cavendish warned “If you don’t like tap-dancing, run for the hills: 42nd Street is the tyrannosaurus rex of tap.” But he concludes: “...the garlands belong to the ensemble, dancing on the spot as if gliding on ice, windmilling arms furiously yet gracefully. An American classic right royally revived.”
As a quintessentially American dance form, tap’s development and popularity reflect a great deal about the social and cultural history of America. These activities provide important background information and offer launchpads for further research.
- Tap is the art of jazz, expressed as both dance and music. In this art form, as in any form of percussive dance, the dancer is not only the instrument of expression, but also a living percussive instrument.
- Tap has its roots in West African dance and music and Irish step dance and English clogging. Eventually these forms came together to create a unique new American form of dance.
- Training to be a tap dancer requires learning a specific vocabulary as well as specific techniques for tapping rhythm with the feet. Improvisation and syncopation are part of tap dancing.
- Tap is one style of percussive dance. Others include flamenco, Irish step dance, and body percussion.
SOURCE: Kramer, Katherine. Dance Sense Teacher's Guide. KET, The Kentucky Network, 2001, education.ket.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/ds_complete.pdf?_ga=2.56591533.70644680.1554669957-412489177.1553801707.
WATCHTHE HISTORY OF TAP
Ask students to watch this 5-minute video on the history of tap in America.
Ask students how much they know about tap, or whether any have taken lessons.
Encourage students to watch videos of tap routines by famous tap dancers. Who are the dancers? What are the student reactions? What do they think the dancers consider as they choreograph and rehearse their routines?
3. GO FURTHER
The Library of Congress offers an in-depth written article on the history of tap, “Tap Dance in America: A Short History,” explaining that tap “is an indigenous American dance genre that evolved over a period of some three hundred years.”
The first section of the article provides a description of a dance battle that featured both tap and Irish clogging. Read the following excerpt and watch the battle.
"On the evening of the thirty-ninth annual Grammy Awards that was broadcast on national television on February 27, 1997, Colin Dunn and Savion Glover faced off in the fiercest tap dance challenge of their lives. Colin Dunn, the star of Riverdance—The Musical, was challenging Savion Glover, the choreographer and star of Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk, to a battle of the feet that was staged to showcase and celebrate the two hottest musicals on Broadway. But there was nothing festive about the challenge dance for these two stars. Not only was their reputation as dancers at stake but also the supremacy of the percussive dance forms that each show represented—Irish step dancing and African American jazz tap dancing."
Ask students to scan the entire article and select a section to delve more deeply.
Sections focus on the immigrant influences, history, and tap dancers over time. Students can use the Library of Congress to locate additional information and examples detailing their summary, or locate other resources via the internet. Ask students to provide a summary report to the rest of the class regarding their section.
In the 1990s, tap was well-represented on the educational TV show, Sesame Street. Tap phenomenon Savion Glover was a recurring figure on the show, and guest artists like Gregory Hines turned up as well to educate kids about important concepts. This video explores “opposites.”
Ask students to reflect on how tap was used to teach the concept. What are all the opposites that are explored? Be sure to note the unspoken opposite: an older tap icon alongside the new tap sensation. Was this an effective video? Why?
RHYTHM DOWN IN YOUR SHOES
Students will learn about the key rhythmic components of tap, and practice using their body as a percussive instrument. Students will learn how “ensemble” is important to tap performance in 42nd Street and reflect on other areas in their life where ensemble and community are important.
42nd Street requires a great deal of skill and energy from the ensemble. There are spectacular production numbers with a great deal of tap dancing. In the play, Julian tries to belittle Peggy and dampen her excitement by referring to her as merely a “speck of dust” on the line. Peggy pushes back, noting the power and magic that comes from bringing all of those “specks of dust” together. The following exercises provide an opportunity for the class to work as a “chorus line” unit to problem solve, create shared energy, culminating with a taste of the rhythm and sequencing that makes tap so potent, joyful and fun!
1. WARM-UP: Chose one or more of the following exercises to focus students attention and build awareness of their bodies and physical space.
- HUMAN KNOT: Divide the group into two. Each group forms a circle and raises their right arm. They take the hand of someone across the circle and raise their left arm. They take the hand of a different partner across the circle. A human knot has been created and the group has got to work together to untangle themselves.
- WARM-UP: ZIP! ZAP! ZOP!: This is an energy sharing exercise which serves as both a vocal and physical warm up. The sequence of the sharing is always:
ONE – ZIP!
THREE – ZOP!
Have students return to their circle formation. The goal of this warm up is to pass the vocal energy around the circle using the three words … ZIP!, ZAP!, and ZOP! You will begin the exercise by turning and pointing to someone in the circle saying ZIP!, they receive your sent energy and turn to another person in the circle, pointing and saying ZAP!. That person receives and builds that energy by turning to yet another participant in the circle, pointing and saying ZOP! … the sharing continues, starting from the beginning of the Zip!, Zap!, Zop! sequence and building in speed and connective – and unstopped – rhythm, speeding along until the progression is broken or ended.
- WARM-UP: NEWS (North, East, South, West): This is a movement-based version of "follow the leader." Ask the group to stand in three or four rows. Choose a leader for the front and back rows as well as the two sides. Play some music. Start with the leader in front. They will move to the music with the rest of the group following. When they have completed "leading," they will "give" leadership to the row captain to their right by turning their body to the right. That leader will then take over leading the group until leadership is passed again. Once leadership has been returned to the original leader, the exercise is complete. The objective is to work as an ensemble. The goal of the leader is to ensure that movements are slow and large enough so that each member of the group can seamlessly follow.
2. ENGAGE: MOVING IT
In this lesson plan developed for The Kentucky Network’s 10-part Dance Sense television series, students learn that “percussive dancers of all kinds use the three elements of dance: time, space and force. These exercises introduce them to the physical attributes of beat, rhythm, accent, duration and tempo in tap dance.
- Rhythm and the percussive nature of tap: Have one student at a time clap a short rhythm. The rest of the class copies the rhythm, clapping. Next, each student takes a turn clapping a rhythm and the rest of the class tries to put that rhythm in their feet. Ask them to use accents on some of the beats in their rhythms to create syncopations. Put these accents in unusual places. Think of them as surprises.
- Rhythmic phrases: Have the students pick a rhyming song, rap, poem, phrase or nursery rhyme and clap the rhythm of the words, e.g. Hickory Dickory Dock or the words in a line of a favorite song. Next have them say the rhyme and put it in their feet or in a body part (head, shoulders, hips). Have them put it in their feet without saying it out loud and see if the class can recognize the rhyme.
- Call and Response: Have two students volunteer to have a conversation with their feet, using the rhythms and sounds of their feet to communicate, trading back and forth. As they are making up their conversations they are also using call and response as a form/structure and they are improvising.
SOURCE:Kramer, Katherine. Dance Sense Teacher's Guide. KET, The Kentucky Network, 2001, education.ket.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/ds_complete.pdf?_ga=2.56591533.70644680.1554669957-412489177.1553801707.
Visit the DanceSense web site at www.ket.org/dancesense.
3. DISCUSSION/WRITING PROMPTS
- Have you ever been part of a sports team or performance group that truly clicked and worked as one? What does it feel like to be part of a shared experience whether it be a team playing together in sync, or a vocal group singing together in perfect harmony or a dance troupe working in union?
- What groups are you currently part of? How do you capitalize on your individual gifts while serving the needs of the group as a whole? What are some of the ways that you contribute to cause unity in the group?
- What are some of the elements that cause groups to be dysfunctional? What role does self-sacrifice play in developing a successful and productive group experience? Are you more comfortable when you lead or when you follow? Why?
4. PERSONAL REFLECTION ESSAY
The song “Go Into Your Dance” offers both a remedy for the blues and a reason why musicals (especially if you are cast in one!) can be important during difficult times. The lyrics offer pertinent advice:If you’ve got a melancholy case of the bluesI’ve got a remedy for youIf you’ve an ounce of rhythm down in your shoes …Go into your danceDon’t be complainingLearn how to smileAnd if it’s rainingDance in the rain a while!
Ask students to reflect in a short personal essay: what stock do they put into this advice? What songs cheer them up, and make them want to dance?